5 Things I Wish I Knew as a New Computer Science Student

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It’s okay to ask for help.

I had (and still have, to a lesser extent) a strong aversion to asking for help on an assignment. I’ve been through several occasions where I would struggle with something for 4+ hours, only for a TA to figure it out, and explain it to me, in 15 minutes. My rule, now, is to ask for help if I’m having trouble with the same issue for more than 2 hours. In the “real world” of working, people ask each other for help from time to time—and it’s expected that interns and new workers will have a lot of questions. It’s certainly fine to ask for help while you’re a student.

Computer Science is very social.

When I was first learning about computer science, the stereotype of the lone person coding in a cubicle appealed to me. However, it’s not accurate. While you will spend some time on your own, working on your laptop, you’ll also spend time in meetings, discussing what you’re working on, and with other programmers, dividing up work and helping each other when you run into issues with your code. About a fifth of my projects in college have been team-based, and in a class I’m taking this semester, every project is team-based. You’ll likely be working with other programmers throughout your career—so, remember to work on improving your communication skills!

You can try research.

Undergraduate research has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me. While the work in my classes hasn’t always been exciting, my research work has been consistently interesting—in part because the work is motivated by trying to solve a current problem (as opposed to class assignments, where the motivation is “because this is an assignment.”) Through research I’ve not only improved my coding ability, but also my public speaking and social skills.

I’ve been able to travel to other states to present my work and hear about the new and exciting work of others. I’ve also had invaluable mentoring and guidance, and met amazing people. I highly recommend trying research! When I approached my adviser about doing research with her, I was very nervous because I didn’t have previous work experience. However, a surprising number of professors are willing to take on undergraduates without any.

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